Before moving to Gainesville in 1992 I had been a football coach for 28 seasons, four seasons in high school, one season at a junior college, three seasons at William and Mary, with Marv Levy and Lou Holtz, and five seasons at Ohio State with Woody Hayes. While working for Woody, I was the national recruiter and watched film on high school players from all over the United States. From 1976-1991 we coached in the National Football League at Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Diego.
I have found Hall County high school football at the highest quality; the players are extremely well-coached, and their coaches give them good gameplans and excellent direction during the games.
Looking back on my coaching days, I coached best when I had the best players, and generally the team with the best players wins. Some of the best games I have ever seen at any level were when two very evenly matched Hall County teams play each other. The North Hall-Gainesville week is always exciting, Johnson and West Hall is always a good game and the most exciting game I saw last season was Flowery Branch at North Hall.
Last season, I did not see a college or an NFL game as exciting as that one. I have immense respect for both Lee Shaw and Bob Christmas. As we were driving home I remember feeling good for the winner and bad for the loser and just lucky to live in a community which has two fine coaches leading two great groups of young men.
Each week as the season goes on the power ratings should be move valid, but we have to start some place. North Hall and Chestatee have not played a game and I put them both at the bottom. Flowery Branch was most impressive as they traveled to Madison County another AAAA team and won 21-0. Gainesville, which is in a rebuilding year, was outmanned by Buford, and West Hall beat what I think is a pretty good East Hall Viking team.
As the season goes along I, at times, let a win in head-to-head competition trump the power rating, but for the five or six weeks ahead, I let the ratio of points scored against points allowed by the defense determine how a team is ranked.
1. Flowery Branch (1-0) Power Rating 21, Points Scored 21, Points allowed 0.
The Falcons opened the season with a very impressive win. This was the first season in the last six in which Lee Shaw didn’t have one of his sons playing QB. Both of Lee’s son (Jaybo and Conner) were splendid QBs and consistently made excellent on-the-field decisions.
It looks like the Falcons have a good QB in Austin Brown, and the Flowery Branch defense, led by linebacker Jacob Allen, played as well as Flowery Branch teams in recent seasons. The Falcons held Madison County to eight first downs, 1.6 yards per rush and a total of 139 yards. Those are winning stats in anybody’s league.
The Falcon offense was solid, but not dominating. It had 17 first downs and was able to control the ball while averaging 3.4 yards per rush. The Falcon pass offense only averaged 2.5 yards per pass attempt; that’s a tough stat to win with in a close game.
South Hall football fans, you should have a good one at the Branch on Friday night as the Falcons face Winder-Barrow, which is coming off a 6-3 loss to No. 9 Rockdale County.
2. West Hall (1-0) Power Rating 3, Points Scored 18, Points Allowed 6.
Last Friday night against East Hall , West Hall’s senior QB Shunquez Stephens averaged an incredible 10.9 yards per pass attempt. You can usually win if you keep this averageat about 8 .5 per attempt. Stephens also completed 57 percent of his passing attempts and added another 30 yards rushing. The Spartans finished with 4.3 yards per rushing attempt.
The West Hall defense was solid allowing 3.5 yards per rush and 7.9 yards per pass attempt, but most impressive were the takeaways: three fumble recoveries and one interception. It looks like the Spartan defense is much improved over last year. Forcing turnovers is a big part to playing great defense. The Spartans are going to have to repeat what they did last Friday to give their team a chance to have a winning record.
In addition to Stephens, some big playmakers against the Vikings included sophomore Antonio Sigmond, who caught five passes for 134 yards and Brandon Fuqua who had five receptions for 37 yards. When an offense gets 380 total yards the “Big Guys” are controlling the line of scrimmage.
Friday night the Spartans travel to Chestatee to play the War Eagles in what will be Chestatee's season opener. These two teams did not play last season and this should be a very interesting early season contest.
3. Johnson (0-1) Power Rating 0.57, Points Scored 8, Points Allowed 14.
Johnson lost to Jackson County in a lightning-shortened game that lasted just one half.
Johnson has to have some concern for their defense since in just two quarters of football they allowed 226total yards and 133 yards of rushing in that half.
Johnson’s one touchdown came as the result of a 81-yard kick off return by Brandon Buncy.
The Knights go on the road again Friday night and will face East Hall. Both teams will be fighting for their first win of the young season. My guess, it’s going to take the full 48 minutes to decide the winner of this one.
4. Gainesville (0-1) Power Rating 0.48, Points Scored 19, Points Allowed 40.
This young Red Elephant football team ran into a buzzsaw last Friday night as the Buford Wolves played Gainesville at Bobby Gruhn. Maybe the best team in the state of Georgia, Buford has a physically strong, very mature football team. Buford’s skill players are impressive, but their “Big Guys” on both sides of the ball dominate the game.
The impressive thing about the Red Elephants was they laid it out every play and played their hearts out the whole game. This young Gainesville team is going to be fine.
While their defense was pushed around pretty good, allowing Buford 6.3 yards per rush and 14.1 yards per pass attempt, the Red Elephant offense, led by freshman Deshaum Watson was impressive. Watson showed great poise and played with great focus in spite of playing against one of the best pass rushing defenses he will see all season.
How’s this for a first game for a freshman quarterback? He carried the ball 18 times and average 4.4 yards per rush and averaged 5.4 yards per pass attempt and this against a great defense.
If you haven’t decided what you want to do Friday night, I think the trip up to Cleveland will be well worth your time. This is a very mentally tough bunch of young football players who will get on the bus to play White County. The Warriors opened the season last Friday night with a win over East Jackson.
5. East Hall (0-1) Power Rating 0.33, Points Scored 6, Points Allowed 18.
Turnovers and two bad punt snaps cost the Vikings almost any chance to win last Friday against West Hall. Statistically, if you have five turnovers you will lose 95 percent of the time.
In addition to turnovers, the Vikings defense allowed 4.3 yards per rushing attempt and 10.9 yards per pass attempt; those are both losing numbers.
The East Hall offense averaged 3.5 yards per rush and 14.5 yards per pass attempt. Jamond Witt had a 45-yard TD catch arun, and averaged better than 5 yards per carry on the ground.
On defense, the Vikings have two of the best defensive ends in North Georgia. Sterling Bailey and Chaz Cheeks both got pressure on the quarterback against West Hall, and their young teammates look to them for leadership.
In spite of the opening game loss, I think the Vikings will have a pretty good football team. When they get into the region they will be playing Class AA teams for a chance to qualify for the state playoffs. Friday night an improving Johnson team will come to East Hall, and it should be an exciting contest. The Vikings are going to have to take care of the ball better than they did last Friday night; few teams can survive five turnovers.
6. North Hall (0-0) Power Rating N/A.
The Trojans did not play last week and will open the season Friday night against a very good Jefferson team at the Brickyard. I suggest that you get there early because parking is going to be tough.
North Hall is loaded with skilled players and maybe the best potential passing attack coach Bob Christmas has had since he’s been at North Hall. Trojan teams in the past won by dominating the trenches, and the young Trojan linemen are being asked to fill some pretty big shoes. Jefferson, St. Pius X and Gainesville in the first three weeks of the season should be a real test for this football team.
6. Chestatee (0-0) Power Rating N/A.
Chestatee lost a bunch of their stars from previous years, but Stan Lutrell has some great young athletes who are chomping at the bit to play under the lights on Friday night. The War Eagles open the season at home against West Hall on Friday night. This improving West Hall team should be a good test for the young War Eagles.